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Corporate Pitches or Real Solutions?: Solidarity 2 Solutions Challenges GCAS

October 2018

Climate change is disrupting our world and our lives. Yet while our planet’s battling a fever, world leaders are offering more snake oils than cures. Movement building is the real medicine.

Shoots of the global climate justice movement assembled in San Francisco, CA for It Takes Roots’ Solidarity to Solutions (Sol2Sol) week of action. As politicians and corporate executives gathered for the nearby Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS), the grassroots organized to project real alternatives to false solutions.

From September 8th to 14th, the Climate Justice Alliance (CJA), Grassroots Global Justice Alliance (GGJ), Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), Right to the City Alliance (RTC), and other grassroots groups held sit-ins, education summits, and joined mass protests. Grassroots International, a member of both CJA and GGJ, participated in the week with our partner organizations Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB) and others.

“They wanted to control the narrative [at GCAS]. We disrupted that,” Yulissa Arce, Grassroots’ Solidarity Program Officer for the BEAI Fund, told me. She, along with Jovanna Garcia Soto (Grassroots’ Solidarity Program Officer for Latin America) participated in the Solidarity to Solutions (Sol2Sol) actions.

False Solutions to a Serious Crisis

Signs of the climate crisis were easy to spot heading into the week.

On Wednesday August 29, Boston hit nearly 100 degrees. The hottest August on record closed schools early for the start of the school year. Thanks to budget cuts and outdated buildings, many classrooms lack air-conditioning. Nights offered no relief; the sweltering heat continued in the dark quiet. In Japan, the abnormal summer heatwave turned deadly and hospitalized over 71,000 people.

On the other side of the country, Californians battled another string of record-breaking wildfires. Some 1.4 million acres had burned as of September 2nd, and thousands of area residents fled. Down in the Carolinas, Hurricane Florence broke records, shattering previous predictions we would see a calmer storm season than last year. Such symptoms of climate change are growing more severe with each passing year.

Rather than addressing the causes and harm of these multiple disasters, the Climate-Denier-In-Chief instead blamed regulations for the West Coast blazes. President Trump tweeted:

Experts have debunked his claims. Still, the Environmental Protection Agency plans to flatten any regulations putting the smallest of speed bumps in the path of climate disaster. The federal government will not raise fuel economy targets for six years after 2020. It is also taking power away from states to set their own, more stringent standards.

liberal climate defenders?

Against right-wing denialism, liberal politicians like California Governor Jerry Brown have proclaimed themselves climate defenders. As reported in the Los Angeles Times, Brown vowed to oppose the administration’s fuel economy plan “in every conceivable way possible.”

Brown also hosted GCAS. It brought top-billing international politicos, like former Vice President Al Gore and Barack Obama’s press secretary Robert Gibbs, together with corporate executives like Starbucks President and CEO Kevin Johnson. The summit aimed to be a “launchpad for deeper worldwide commitments… to prevent dangerous climate change.”

But like most pitchmen, Brown’s statements and summits serve as better press than policy. In reality, Brown and the supposedly conscientious capitalists he assembled share responsibility for the climate disaster.

Though Brown has blocked the worst of Trump’s fossil fuel frenzy, he has expanded offshore drilling in state waters. An interactive map by Consumer Watchdog reveals that Brown oversees four times more oil wells in California than Trump. Brown could close down these existing oil leases and wells through executive action, but he has not. As a result, both profits and fuel still flow.

A popular chant often rang out during Sol2Sol, “Tell Jerry Brown to keep it in the ground!” Rightly so.

Conscientious capitalists?

Likewise, Starbucks has gotten good press for promising to phase out plastic straws. As GCAS-invitee Kevin Johnson says, they have a “global aspiration of sustainable coffee, served to our customers in more sustainable ways.”

Yet less ink has been spilled about Starbucks’s recent $7.15 billion distribution deal with Nestlé. The partnership is on par with the latter company’s $7.4 billion water bottling business.

Nestlé has long exploited and privatized water resources. While Flint, Michigan still lacks drinking water, Nestlé pays just $200 a year to bottle 210 million gallons just down the road. In the words of former Nestlé CEO and current chair emeritus Peter Brabeck, declaring water a human right is “extreme”:

[W]ater is a foodstuff like any other, and like any other foodstuff it should have a market value… I’m still of the opinion that the biggest social responsibility of any CEO is to maintain and ensure the successful and profitable future of his enterprise.

Brabeck’s statement is the sharpest edge of corporate resource “management,” but false solutions like carbon trading share the same capitalist principle, extracting and trading Mother Earth like a commodity.

“Many people believe regulatory agencies will protect us, but that’s not what they’re there for,” Pennie Opal Plant of Idle No More San Francisco Bay argued in a conference call leading into Sol2Sol. “They are really about permitting the capitalist agenda to continue, and [Federal] and state agendas in corporate pockets to continue.”

The quest for profit is killing the planet. Our solution is solidarity.

A Call to Action

The week began with the People’s Climate March on Saturday. In the breezy Saturday winds, some 30,000 people marched down Market Street. Indigenous activists from It Takes Roots and the Indigenous Environmental Network led chants and songs of defiance. The breadth and depth of the climate justice movement, the potential power to end the crisis, was on full display.

On Monday, hundreds protested outside the Parc 55 Hotel as politicians and climate profiteers held meetings with a few token indigenous leaders.

“We shut it down,” Yulissa told me. “The whole message [from us] was, ‘you can’t privatize and commodify Mother Earth — the land, water, air — and use people of color as props to justify it.’ If the frontline communities are not at the center of the decision-making, then it is a false solution from the beginning.”

This message continued into the following days as activists sat-in and protested, shutting down GCAS entrances and meetings during the bulk of the conference. But the week was not simply for action. On Tuesday October 11, Sol2Sol pulled hundreds into a summit of our own — to organize our side.

“Groups have met from even other countries, from South America, across the Atlantic and Pacific to network and discuss ‘this is what we’re doing where I’m from, so maybe this is what you can do that can help benefit you,’” said Reginald Virgil from the Echo Group in Gulfport, Mississippi. “This type of conference, this type of venue, needs to be held in every other state.”

Sol2Sol “also served as a call to action [for philanthropy],” Yulissa continued. During GCAS, 29 philanthropies pledged $4 billion to combat climate change. “If they would just give that money to the grassroots organizations that are actually doing the work, we would probably be a lot closer to eradicating climate change and its impacts.”

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